Learn Phrases for Clarification

As early as possible in your language learning, learn and practice phrases in the target language that you can use to clarify when you don’t understand something. For example:

  • I don’t understand.
  • Please repeat.
  • Say that again.
  • More slowly please.
  • I don’t know/remember how to say …
  • What does … mean?
  • Do you mean …? (restating what someone said to you to make sure you understood correctly)
  • I'm trying to say ...
  • Tell me.
  • Show me.
  • Help me.

You may be able to find these types of phrases in your textbook. If not, look them up or ask your conversation partner. You can bring your list of high frequency phrases in the target language to your conversation session(s) and refer to it for a couple of weeks at the beginning of the semester. After that, aim to memorize your high frequency phrases. You can use flashcards or other techniques to help you memorize them. 

You should use these phrases in the target language instead of asking in English:

  • This will be valuable practice for real-life situations where you need to clarify what a native speaker said.
  • In a social situation, this can help keep a conversation going instead of having one or both speakers give up on the interaction.
  • When handling a practical situation such as asking for directions, it can make the difference between getting where you need to go or becoming even more lost.

Also learn some questions that will help you to pick up new words and phrases in the language. For example:

  • How do you say …?
  • What is this called in [language]?
  • What's the word for ... in [language]?